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Connecticut Supreme Court Considering Legality of Women’s Only Gyms

Edge Fitness and Club Fitness both offer women-only exercise areas in their Connecticut gyms. Two men filed claims against the gyms with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), claiming these women-only areas are discriminatory under state law. Connecticut’s public accommodation law prohibits discrimination and segregation in public places based on sex. The law explicitly excludes bathrooms and locker rooms but does not address separate exercise areas. The CHRO is arguing that separate workout areas are illegal, just like the segregation-era “separate but equal” systems formerly in place at public schools, restaurants, and other facilities before being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Procedurally, the CHRO lost its case in front of its own Office of Public Hearing and on appeal to the Connecticut Superior Court. Both hearings upheld allowing these sections for women. A University of Connecticut professor introduced evidence from a survey conducted with Edge Fitness female members.  In her survey of these female members, many revealed feeling body-shamed and self-conscious when working out with men, resulting in weaker athletic performance and discouraging them from working out. The Superior Court assessed the legislative intent, concluding that gender privacy interests may be more important than promoting blanket anti-discrimination based on sex in some circumstances. In this instance, women would suffer from “sexual objectification, extreme embarrassment, anxiety, stress, and many would choose not to exercise in public accommodation…thus it appears that gender privacy interest here is on par with the same interest that caused the legislature to specifically exempt bathrooms and locker rooms.” 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford and the Muslim Coalitions of Connecticut support these separate areas for women whose religious beliefs bar them from exercising in front of men. The ACLU and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders filed briefs in support of CHRO. The Connecticut Supreme Court will hear oral argument this month.